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Reciprocals in Yélî Dnye, the Papuan language of Rossel Island


Levinson,  Stephen C.
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Categories across Language and Cognition, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour;
Radboud University Nijmegen;
Language documentation and data mining;

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Levinson, S. C. (2011). Reciprocals in Yélî Dnye, the Papuan language of Rossel Island. In N. Evans, A. Gaby, S. C. Levinson, & A. Majid (Eds.), Reciprocals and semantic typology (pp. 177-194). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Yélî Dnye has two discernable dedicated constructions for reciprocal marking. The first and main construction uses a dedicated reciprocal pronoun numo, somewhat like English each other. We can recognise two subconstructions. First, the ‘numo-construction’, where the reciprocal pronoun is a patient of the verb, and where the invariant pronoun numo is obligatorily incorporated, triggering intransitivisation (e.g. A-NPs become absolutive). This subconstruction has complexities, for example in the punctual aspect only, the verb is inflected like a transitive, but with enclitics mismatching actual person/number. In the second variant or subconstruction, the ‘noko-construction’, the same reciprocal pronoun (sometimes case-marked as noko) occurs but now in oblique positions with either transitive or intransitive verbs. The reciprocal element here has some peculiar binding properties. Finally, the second independent construction is a dedicated periphrastic (or woni…woni) construction, glossing ‘the one did X to the other, and the other did X to the one’. It is one of the rare cross-serial dependencies that show that natural languages cannot be modelled by context-free phrase-structure grammars. Finally, the usage of these two distinct constructions is discussed.